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Fascinating Facts about Chili Today, Hot Tamale Scramble Squares®
Peppers have been cultivated for thousands of years for both their culinary uses and their believed medicinal properties. Although most chili peppers are native to South America, they are grown and used throughout the world. Hot peppers are popular in Mexican, South American, Indonesian, African and Asian cooking. Milder peppers, such as the sweet green or red bell pepper, are common in European and North American recipes. All chili peppers varieties share the common genus name, "capsicum,” from the Greek word kapto, literally meaning "to bite." There are five major species of chili peppers: Capsicum annum, which includes the jalapeno, bell peppers and most common varieties; Capsicum baccatu, which includes the berry-like South American chili peppers; Capsicum chinens, which includes the blazing habanero; Capsicum frutescens, which includes the bushy pepper plants such as tabasco; and Capsicum pubescens, which includes the South American rocoto peppers.

The spicy heat of chili peppers is measured in Scoville Units, an index developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. Scoville Units measure chili pepper heat in multiples of 100, with bell peppers at 0 and the habanero at over 300,000 Scoville Units! The Scoville Unit rating of a pepper is determined by a dilution taste test, based on how much a ground chili must be diluted before no heat at all is detected when tasted. Liquid chromatography, rather than Scoville's dilution taste test, is used today to measure the heat of chili peppers.

The substance that makes a chili hot is called “capsaicin,” which is also believed to improve health by increasing blood circulation and metabolism. Pure capsaicin is measured at over 16 million Scoville Units! Eighty percent of the total amount of capsaicin in a chili pepper is in the ribs along the inside the pepper. Because a pepper’s seeds are attached along its ribs, they also have a high concentration of capsaicin. The most commonly followed rule for judging a chili’s hotness is, “the smaller the pepper, the hotter the pepper.”

No other group of plants has as much variety in their fruits as do pepper plants, from the largest and sweetest peppers, the bell peppers, to the smallest and among the hottest chili peppers, the piquins that are less than one inch in length. Mature peppers can be white, yellow, orange, red, purple, deep green or nearly black. It is possible for all colors produced by a particular variety to grow on the very same pepper plant at the same time! Some peppers are long and slender, others long and plump, and still others are round or heart-shaped. Some of the hottest peppers are tiny cone-shaped peppers, and some of the mildest are large and square-shaped peppers. Some peppers are very smooth-skinned, while others have a wrinkled appearance. Chili peppers are cholesterol free, low in both sodium and calories, rich in Vitamins A and C and a source of folic acid, potassium and Vitamin E.

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